Advanced manufacturing has a strong footprint in Nash County and the surrounding area. With access to I-95 as well as nearby seaports and international airports, logistics are ideal for industry; however, a skilled local workforce has long been a hurdle for the region. Working to fill that knowledge and skills gap, Nash Community College is strengthening its partnerships with local manufacturers to help fill these quality jobs.
In the fall of 2018, Nash Community College opened a new state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing facility to help address area industry demand. The Golden LEAF Board awarded $250,000 to Nash Community College for advanced manufacturing equipment through the Community-Based Grants Initiative in June 2018. Interest in these programs has surged in the last three years.
The college’s facility features Computer-Integrated Machining, Electrical Systems Technology, Industrial Systems Technology, Welding Technology, and Electronics Engineering Technology programs and includes a robotics and simulated manufacturing laboratory. The college works closely with industry to ensure that the equipment purchased for training is utilized by most businesses and that the training at the facility is aligned with employer needs so students can access good paying jobs.
Nash Community College has an industry advisory committee that helps steer the focus of the Advanced Manufacturing programs. In fact, many of the students work at partnering industries in internships while earning a degree.
“The companies set up the work schedule around the student’s school schedule,” said Alex Barnhill, Nash Community College Department Chair for Applied Engineering Technologies. “Students work around 20 hours a week to give them the hands-on training and experience they need to be successful in the field after graduation. The schedule also allows plenty of time for classwork.”
Nash Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing programs have helped 71 students complete a program in advanced manufacturing, 59 incumbent workers receive continuing education credits, 235 students earn third-party credentials, and 74 students find employment in the field. Forty-two high school students that enrolled in the Career and College Promise program earned college credit in the advanced manufacturing field.
“Some of the specialty training helps attract students from surrounding counties,” said Barnhill. “This field is really open to everybody. No prior experience or a mechanical background is needed. We provide all the training needed to get students ready for amazing job opportunities.”
In March 2020, Nash Community College had to shift to remote and distance learning when the campus had to close to students because of the pandemic. That shift did slow down the hands-on training portion of many programs during the Spring 2020 semester; however, advanced manufacturing students were allowed back on campus for the Fall 2020 semester for lab work.
“We had to demonstrate that we could appropriately social distance and have good cleaning procedures,” said Barnhill. “Due to the strict standards of advanced manufacturing work, we were already doing much of that anyway.”
The change in instructional delivery due to the pandemic actually seems to be working for many of the program participants.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Barnhill. “The hybrid work environment is really working for our students. They get the instruction delivered through a recorded lecture online, and they receive the hands-on training at the college.”
Barnhill said that there are so many jobs available right now in Advanced Manufacturing that all students going through his programs could have a good-paying job upon completion and still there would not be enough workers to meet the demand.
“Many people do not know that advanced manufacturing offers a much higher wage than other types of factory work,” said Barnhill. “Employees work in a super clean environment with the most rigid safety standards. When you graduate in just two years, students make really good money.”
Another great opportunity with the Advanced Manufacturing program at Nash Community College is the partnership with East Carolina University.
“Students who graduate with our program can go into the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology degree,” said Barnhill. “The degree through ECU is offered mostly online, and many of the companies will help pay for that four-year degree while you continue working for them.”
The Advanced Manufacturing future is bright in North Carolina, and Nash Community College is helping to provide knowledgeable and skilled employees to meet the demand. With the increased need for a skilled workforce, partnerships between industry and community colleges will help keep large employers in rural North Carolina for years to come.